The Haida Nation Forbids Visitors During COVID-19

“The Haida Nation put up roadblocks and is turning back visitors seeking to enter its communities off British Columbia. Members held a rally this week to reinforce the message.” J. Estus, ICT

Some of the crowd on the road near the roadblock. Photo by Mary Helmer

Excerpt: Island tribal nation rallies behind travel restrictions, By Joaqlin Estus, ICT

Tribal members on a cluster of islands off British Columbia are stepping up efforts to keep out visitors after the province declared sports hunting and fishing essential activities.

The Haida Nation, one of several Pacific Northwest tribes whose rainy, forested homelands extend from Oregon to southeast Alaska, put up roadblocks about a month ago and has been turning back nonresidents traveling by ferry to Haida Gwaii, or the ‘Island of the People.’

On Monday, dozens of tribal members turned out for a rally at the roadblocks to reinforce the tribe’s stance.

‘We want to send a stronger message to the outside world that we’re just not welcoming visitors at this point,’ said Billy Yovanovich, chief councillor of the Skidegate Band Council. Haida Gwaii has had no confirmed positive cases of COVID-19.

The Haida Nation’s position puts it at odds with the British Columbia provincial government, which last week designated sports hunters and fishermen as essential food and agriculture service providers — opening the door for them to travel to Haida Gwaii by ferry. Airlines have halted air service to Haida Gwai until May.

The province’s chief medical officer has reminded British Columbians that the ‘Haida Nation and other first indigenous nations have our own jurisdiction and our own governance,’ Haida Nation President Gaagwiis Jason Alsop said. ‘And you know, in situations like this … we can turn people away to protect our own people.’

Normally this time of year, visitors would begin arriving to travel to area lodges for sports hunting and fishing, to visit national parks, and to go sightseeing in Skidegate and Old Massett, the two villages on Graham, the largest island in the Haida Gwaii archipelago…’There’s been a couple of them [epidemics] in the past. And that’s how all the Haida people ended up getting in Skidegate and Old Massett. Smallcox came here and just about wiped out all of our people.’  He also noted the island has only two ventilators and no medical expertise or equipment to provide appropriate care to patients seriously ill with COVID-19…’Once all this changes, it [COVID-19] goes away, things are back to whatever normal looks like, we would welcome people back again.’ Alsop said. ‘But at this point, the direction is ‘stay at home.’ I absolutely want people not to come visit at this time.’

No outsiders arrived on the ferry Monday, but a few have in the past few weeks, Alsop said. They were told to shelter in place in their vehicles in the parking lot and to take the next ferry home.”

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What services are available?

Though some individuals might be aware of services offered by their prospective tribes and states, others finding themself in an unfamiliar situation may not be aware they qualify for several benefits offered by human/social services and unemployment services.

It is worth noting that the majority of social services websites in each state now have a COVID-19 warning on their landing pages, warning people not to come to social and human services locations in person. With this in mind, these services should be completed online only. Some states have — in addition to their online applications — telephone numbers applicants can call to have a representative that can fill out the application for you over the phone.

Such benefits include, but are not limited to:

• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – Formerly known as food stamps

• Food banks

• The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

• Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)

• Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

• Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

• Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

• Medicaid

• Childcare assistance

• Housing assistance

• Programs for persons with disabilities, or are homeless, seniors, veterans and/or in the military

• Unemployment compensation

Where to begin?

After extensive research, the most comprehensive and user-friendly website for finding assistance from a multitude of programs is arguably Benefits.gov.